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Protest says police killed dozens of unarmed Black men

Published Apr 22, 2009 12:52 PM

Over 50 protesters braved stormy weather and a reign of terror on April 20 to gather outside the headquarters of the Fraternal Order of Police and take a stand against police brutality in the Black community. Rally organizers charged that in the Philadelphia area 36 unarmed Black men were killed by police between May 2008 and April 2009.

Initiated by the African American Freedom and Reconstruction League, the demonstrations denounced the bigotry, bias and racist murders that have been committed by the Philadelphia Police Department.

Protesters say police have been given
'license to kill.'
WW photo: Joe Piette

Leon Williams, speaking on behalf of AAFRL, said, “We have a situation where none of us are safe in Philadelphia. We need accountability. Mayor [Michael] Nutter is not doing anything. Police Commissioner [Charles] Ramsey is not doing anything. The police Internal Affairs are not doing anything. The only way things will change is when citizens stand up and be vigilant. Let’s get rid of the corrupt, abusive police and do it now.”

Several speakers denounced the FOP’s attack on Craig Washington, an African-American municipal judge who in February asked police to remove photos and flowers left in memory of a slain police officer from his courtroom in the 35th District police headquarters, which serves as an official courtroom for preliminary hearings. When the police officers denied his request to remove the items, Washington turned a picture over on his own “to avoid any appearance of bias in this courtroom.”

The FOP sought Washington’s transfer and is now conducting a campaign to vote him out of office in November. Referring to a large banner reading “Dump Judge Craig Washington” that adorned the outside of the FOP building, AAFRL spokesperson Brother Robert denounced this campaign. “The FOP is a disgrace to have the audacity to try to trash a judge for being principled,” he said. “But what do you expect from an organization which has all kinds of corrupt police, white and Black?

“Internal Affairs is like the fox guarding the hen house,” he continued. “They need to be investigated. The FOP is racist to the core. Let a police officer in Philadelphia stub his toe and the city comes to a standstill. They allow drugs and guns to flow freely into our communities. They do nothing about it.” Brother Robert continued, “The police have been given license to kill.”

Legislative Black Caucus calls for investigation

A growing number of community leaders, including state legislators, are calling for an investigation to address allegations of police misconduct and abuse. The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus joined this call in the aftermath of an incident involving State Rep. Jewell Williams.

Williams, who is Black, was driving in his North Philadelphia neighborhood on March 28 when he observed two police officers frisking an elderly Black man. He started to intervene out of concern over how the officers were treating the man. When Williams got out of his car to ask if everything was okay, the police officer replied, “Get the f**k back in your car before I give you a bunch of tickets.”

Williams identified himself, asked to speak with the officer’s supervisor, and was subsequently handcuffed. Both officers involved in the incident, members of the Narcotics Strike Force, had been named in earlier cases of police brutality and excessive use of force.

The calls for an investigation have been sparked by other allegations of racism by officers, including a report by a Temple University student who allegedly heard one officer refer to residents in his North Philadelphia precinct as “animals.”

Speakers at the rally talked about Williams’ arrest, and noted that not even Black politicians or Black police are safe. “The FOP is organized crime,” Pam Africa of International Concerned Family and Friends of Mumia Abu-Jamal told the gathering. “They have organized media. They have organized courts. These are our children they are beating down, our children they are killing.

“Our children can’t stand on the corner because the police allow drugs in our neighborhoods. They know who brings drugs in and they protect them,” said Africa.

Shahrazad Ali, mother of an 8-year-old and an adult son, described her constant concern that her sons could be shot or locked up. “Mayor Nutter has given police the political right to come up against us,” Ali said, referring to Nutter’s “stop and frisk” policy, which gives police license to stop anyone on the streets at anytime. The program is allegedly designed to stem the number of murders in the city.

“Black people don’t make the guns and bullets,” Ali noted. “They come from outside our community.”

Police brutality victim Abdul Jon described being beaten by police inside City Hall with a baseball bat in 1981. He spent five days in the hospital and five months in jail before going to court, where a judge described the beating as “insignificant.” Jon said, “We’re suffering under a state of police tyranny. They’re about terrorizing us. It’s not just an issue of brutality.”